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Polar Warming Translates South as June-Like High Pressure Ridge Brings Record-Smashing Temperatures to Eastern U.S. in February

The North Atlantic and Arctic weather pattern is a real mess. Frequent episodes of severe polar warmth relative to normal conditions for this time of year have been a persistent feature. Arctic sea ice extents are at record lows. Meanwhile, the upstream atmosphere generated a record-smashing high pressure system and related abnormal warmth over the U.S. East on Wednesday.

(Severe warming, both at the surface and in the upper atmosphere over the Arctic helped to generate a polar vortex collapse during recent days. This collapse, in turn, generated a number of high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — one of which produced a record high pressure ridge over the U.S. East Coast on Wednesday, February 21. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All these severe weather elements have ties to a climate change related condition called polar amplification. A condition that generates mass sea ice loss and extreme warmth at the northern pole, especially during winter. One that translates into more extreme ridge and trough patterns over the middle latitudes. And due to these features, the weather for both the Arctic and the North Atlantic doesn’t appear to be set to return to anything approximating normal for at least the next five days.

Forecast for More Extreme Warmth…

Far to the north, a long, thin extension in the Jet Stream is setting up to bring predicted above freezing temperatures to the North Pole by Sunday. The surface system anchoring that warm air invasion is a powerful low predicted to bomb out around 930 mb just off the coast of Greenland on Saturday. It will fling hurricane force winds and near to above freezing temperatures over coastal and northeastern sections of this frozen archipelago before translating that significant energy northward into the Arctic by early Sunday.

(Extreme warmth struck both the Arctic and the U.S. East on Wednesday, February 21st. A similar pattern is predicted to repeat by this weekend — pushing temperatures to near or above freezing at the North Pole even as the US southeast swelters. Image source: GFS/Climate Reanalyzer.)

Temperatures over central and northern Greenland are predicted to range between 10 and 25 C above average even as parts of the high Arctic spike to 30 C above average.

… Following Wednesday’s Record-Breaking Ridge

Though much of the recently most extreme weather action has been focused on the Arctic, the mid-latitudes have seen there fair share of climate change wrenched extremes.

Yesterday, a slot of warm air rushing northward built into a powerful ridge over the U.S. East Coast. This ridge was not any typical pulse of warm air at the surface running counter to a much cooler winter time atmosphere. It was heavy and it was tall — translating from the ground and well into the stratosphere.

So much heat generated summer-like conditions across the U.S. East. From the mid Atlantic to the northeast, temperature records last set as far back as the late 1800s were shattered. Washington DC saw 82 degree (F) temps. Vermont shattered several of its all-time record highs for February. Massachusetts saw temps hit 80 in Fitchburg. While New York’s Central Park also broke its all-time record of 68 F as the mercury struck 78 degrees yesterday. It was the strongest outbreak of heat ever to strike the northeastern section of the U.S. since record-keeping began back in the late 19th Century. Temperatures there were more typical of June and far less so of February.

All that extra heat translating so far into the upper atmosphere also generated convection and cloud formations more typical of summer — with cumulus clouds piling up over places like Atlanta.

And it wasn’t just temperatures and clouds that were increasingly trekking into outlandish parameters for February, it was the state of the atmosphere itself. For the central peak of the high pressure system provoking such powerful atmospheric anomalies was a stunning 595 dm at the 500 millibar level. This was the highest pressure ever recorded at the 18,000 foot level of the atmosphere. And the earliest time we’ve ever seen such a strong high pressure system off the U.S. East Coast previously was during June.

By the weekend, another warm air push is expected to invade the U.S. East. This time, it appears that temperatures in the Southeast will be most intense with highs hitting around 85 F across parts of Georgia and Florida even as a broad region of 75 to 80+ degree readings sweeps from the Gulf Coast on up through Virginia Sunday.

In the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that increasing atmospheric thickness and powerful high pressure ridges are noted features of a warming global environment. New record high temperatures are also a climate change indicator — especially when they occur with such high prevalence and frequency. And this is the case even over the continental U.S. as a rapidly warming Arctic is helping to drive increasing hot and cold temperature extremes in the middle latitudes.

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43 Comments

  1. Shawn Redmond

     /  February 22, 2018

    Some more on this ridge at WU:
    A ridge to remember
    The record February heat was caused by an unusually pronounced kink in the jet stream that brought a big trough of low pressure over the Western U.S. (accompanied by very cold temperatures) and a record-strength ridge of high pressure that locked in over the eastern half of the U.S. This ridge brought exceptional warmth miles above the eastern U.S. and northwest Atlantic. All else being equal, warmer air is less dense than cooler air, so a deep, warm air mass raises the heights of various benchmark heights such as 500 mb (roughly the midpoint of the atmosphere’s density, almost four miles up). As shown in Figure 2 below, the 500-mb map at 12Z Wednesday (7 am EDT) was simply mind-blowing for mid-February.

    https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/summer-february-80-massachusetts-78-nyc

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  2. bostonblorp

     /  February 22, 2018

    It was t-shirt weather yesterday in Boston. I’m looking at snow coming down right now.

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  3. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    While this polar amplification and jet stream eccentricity is warming the U.S. east coast, the U.S. west coast is currently in the crosshairs of cold polar air moving south and dumping late season snow across the pacific northwest.

    Although the reality of climate change is definitely sinking in to the population, this apparent contradiction is creating a lot of confusion among locals here. When I try to explain the climate mechanisms which are causing these bizarre and extreme weather phenomena, most people have a hard time understanding it. A very frustrating experience, indeed.

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    • The simple answer is that as the globe warms through the first 1-3 C, weather and temperature extremes in the middle latitudes become much more severe.

      In the anomaly maps, this shows up as banding between hot and cold beneath the warm (red and white) plume running up into the Arctic.

      The bands tend to get stuck. So if you’re in a cool zone, it will likely stay cool and stormy for some time. And if you’re in a hot zone, the prevalence is for warm, hot and dry conditions to remain in place.

      Note that in the above map, despite highly anomalous and varied temperature extremes in the middle latitudes, no major climate zones show cooler than average readings.

      In the future, as Greenland melts more rapidly, the physical nature of an expanding freshwater lens will likely also generate a strong cool pool over the North Atlantic zone. Greenland melt has not yet accelerated to the point where this is a major issue. Due to Antarctica’s size, the influx of fresh water into the southern ocean is likely to also generate a pool of counter-trend cooling when melt really starts to ramp up there. We’re not yet quite in the temperature range where we’d expect this to be fully realized — approx 1.5 to 2.5 C above 1880s values.

      What I mean to say is that, unfortunately, local conditions in a number of regions will likely become more confusing and varied before they become less so. But the overall cause of the present and likely future extremes is a warming global climate.

      Liked by 1 person

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      • Yes, thanks Robert. Your explanation, though spot-on and reasonably concise, elicits blank stares from folks who are not scientifically inclined. Showing them the anomaly maps might help, but that isn’t always expedient in casual, everyday conversations.

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        • It’s still a conversation worth having.

          My dad, whom I would have labeled ‘skeptic’ is now quite concerned RE global warming related sea level rise. My first chat with him involved giving him the web address for the climate reanalyzer and telling him I haven’t seen one day yet where the global temperature average was below the 30 year normal range. Still the case and I’ve been looking at the monitor for about five years.

          Liked by 1 person

      • I’m curious. This 2C number floated by many scientists and the Paris Accord, if it’s exceeded could theoretically lead to the loss of all human habitats, right? Well even though the average right now is +1C above 1880 averages, it looks like the areas that would have the most impact on our habitat are warming much more than that. The Arctic appears to be having many, many days at +6C, for example. Could this uneven warming of the planet lead to a catastrophic failure in human habitats much sooner than scientists are forecasting? Once the sea ice is gone, what’s holding back the land ice from plummeting in and rising seas dozens of feet? The Arctic is undergoing such extreme chance that this is starting to seem a distinct possibility.

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        • It’s a question of how much damage we sustain. The answer is that the more you warm, the more damage you end up with. No rational observer is saying that you lose all human habitation at 2 C. But there are many indicators showing that damage would be rather serious and could result in the collapse of a number of societies if they fail to respond well and with compassion.

          The 2 C threshold was once considered a ‘safe’ range marker. In other words, if temperatures could be kept below 2 C, the international community claimed that the worst impacts of climate change could be avoided.

          This assumption was somewhat incorrect in that bad climate outcomes ramp coordinate with temperature increase. In other words, we see increasing damages now. And damage will be worse at 1.5 C and still worse at 2 C. Of course, 2 C warming is far less damaging than 6 C warming. 6 C warming is likely to include a number seriously catastrophic events in the build up to that range and the level of global disruption would be difficult or nigh impossible for even the richest, most advanced, and most responsive societies to manage. So the best course of action RE climate change is attempting to mitigate future warming by building the clean energy revolution now.

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  4. This is one reason I like the term ‘Climate Disruption.’ It makes it a little easier to start explaining things from there, rather than Global Warming. Yes, it is getting warmer overall, but it is disrupting all the patterns as it goes.

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    • It’s a good term. But there can be a lot confusion RE terms. Not a term purist. But global warming does describe the base cause. The process is complex. But it’s also rather interesting, if also rather scary.

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  5. Jeremy in Wales

     /  February 22, 2018

    Wish it was a bit warmer as a cold blast is arriving from Russia but if the sun is out it will not be too bad.

    Orkney seems to be leading the way and is developing a market for their excess renewable energy.

    “With shipping under pressure for producing high levels of emissions, islanders are developing a project that could pave the way for pollution-free roll-on/roll-off vehicle ferries powered by locally produced hydrogen.

    The Surf ’n’ Turf initiative, due to come on stream in September, will draw excess power from a community wind turbine owned by Eday Renewable Energy and surplus tidal power from Orkney’s European Marine Energy Centre.

    That power will then be used to extract hydrogen from water that could be used in the short term to provide auxiliary power for vessels in Kirkwall harbour and ultimately CalMac ferries serving Scotland’s islands.

    Ian Garman, innovation development officer for the charity Community Energy Scotland, which is a partner in the Orkney project, said it had considerable potential.

    “The hydrogen will be shipped to Kirkwall harbour — a distance of about 20 miles — where it will be fed into a hydrogen fuel cell and used to provide auxiliary power for vessels in the harbour,” said Garman. “But I look forward to the day when Eday is served by a ferry fuelled entirely by hydrogen. Then the ship could simply fill up on fuel when she puts into port.”

    Hydrogen-powered cars, buses and marine vessels already exist, but they are expensive to produce and supporters of the project say technology has not yet been developed to power a zero-emissions ship that could carry up to 40 vehicles.

    However, that could happen within the next three years, according to John Morgan, director of business development at Ferguson Marine Engineering.

    He heads a consortium called HySeas 111 which has successfully reached the second stage of a process to secure funding from the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to develop the technology such a ship would require.

    “If our funding bid is successful we will build a drive train, which is the central part of a ferry, to prove that hydrogen can be applied to large, seagoing vessels,” said Morgan.

    “Once that’s there I think we are pretty much ready to build our first hydrogen seagoing ferry. We are still aiming to have that on the water by 2020, if we are lucky.”

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/islanders-set-sail-on-pollution-free-ferries-project-5w52s66bd

    (paywall but you can register for a few free articles per week)

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    • Good to see hydrogen through electrolysis making some strides. But I still think it would probably be loads less expensive just to connect wind directly to battery powered ferries.

      In renewable energy news today, I found:

      This is a big farm for Georgia. Encouraging to see the south actually investing in more solar where it can do the most good.

      Mass production and mass installation combines with no cost for land to result in great economies of scale for Tesla’s planned solar project.

      Scientists have confidence in the renewable energy revolution. That’s a good thing.

      https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-tesla-tracker/

      According to the Model 3 tracker total EVs produced has now surpassed 8,000. Present average rate of vehicle production per week estimated is unchanged at 1,052. Looks like Tesla will struggle to hit 2,500 per week by end Q1 unless there are some major jumps in production soon. On any other automaker, 1,052 per week would look solid. But Tesla needs to get a move on to meet the demand coming from those 500,000 pre-orders.

      However, a good indicator for Tesla is that they are now opening up configurations for purchase to people who haven’t previously owned a Tesla:

      https://electrek.co/2018/02/22/tesla-model-3-orders-non-owners/

      It’s another indirect indicator of increasing production. Tesla itself is sticking to its guns on 2,500 per week by the end of March. Right now, that’s just about a month and a week away.

      California recently set a new record for renewable energy generation for the electrical grid:

      https://electrek.co/2018/02/22/ups-electric-delivery-trucks-workhorse/

      UPS has placed orders for 50 all-electric trucks. A slow but helpful expansion of its EV fleet.

      https://cleantechnica.com/2018/02/22/britain-currently-produces-enough-renewable-electricity-power-country-1958/

      Renewable energy in Britain is now equal to that country’s total power generation in 1958. Pretty clear indicator that renewables are ramping up to prime time status.

      https://cleantechnica.com/2018/02/22/denmark-test-hydrogen-buses/

      Another example of how far EVs have progressed. Also shows that hydrogen powered transport is unlikely to be able to compete with EVs. IMO, two electric buses are better than one hydrogen powered bus any day. Hydrogen in this case continues to be a bit of a distraction.

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      • Jeremy in Wales

         /  February 23, 2018

        In most circumstances battery power is the answer, buses, trucks and trains etc as you point out.

        Shipping is a bit different and the circumstance in islands is different. The outer islands in teh Orkneys are not all on a grid and while Orkney has a inter-connector with Scotland the excess energy on the islands often exceeds its capacity. Batteries are part of the answer and some are in place but the excess is greater than can be reasonably utilised by batteries and the inter-connector. So hydrogen in this instance makes sense, first to power ships in harbour reducing emissions and then by powering the actual ships. (Fully Charged on You Tube have done several programmes on these islands)

        You are probably correct that the smaller ferries could be battery powered but the larger vessels and the distances travelled probably swing in hydrogen fuel cell favour. I have no strong feeling on the matter and no doubt different combinations can be attempted to find the best arrangement but as none of this is now wholly new technology hopefully workable solutions will be in place in a few years.

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        • Food for thought:

          https://electrek.co/2018/01/12/large-tesla-ships-all-electric-barges/

          What I would like to see is how renewables might be used to produce hydrogen for rocket fuel and help drive down costs. I also think that hydrogen might be useful in various areas. It’s just that it hasn’t worked so well with transport thus far.

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        • Kiwi Griff

           /  February 23, 2018

          The company involved Ferguson marine already makes diesel-electric hybrid roll on roll of ferrys.
          http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-35065151
          Add a few roll on roll off tesla power packs delete the engine and the problem is solved Battery swapping would be cheaper than the huge cost of building the hydrogen infrastructure.

          Hydrogen vrs battery as energy storage .

          From the lecture Tony Seba Tesla vrs Toyota.

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        • It’s been my opinion for some time that hydrogen for transport is a rather expensive distraction that diverts resources away from more easily scaled clean energy storage sources. As a result, it has created a series of delays in electrical transport adoption and battery storage. I’m not willing to completely discount hydrogen as a storage source for certain applications, however. It’s just that if you’re interested in adding millions to tens of millions to hundreds of millions of clean energy vehicles, planes, trains, and other craft, batteries are clearly the low hanging fruit.

          Caveat: It may be possible to scale hydrogen mated to wind + solar (electrolysis) to provide liquid and gas fuels that are more readily usable by certain kinds of infrastructure. However, I haven’t seen the economics of these systems reach the kind of positive learning curve or the versatility that we presently see in batteries. For larger scale applications, that may change. In the case of ground vehicle transport, the batteries at this point are rather far ahead. In addition, the level of synergy between batteries and wind + solar is substantial as they all use a common medium — electricity — and it’s easier to build energy systems around that medium than to bend over backwards to use high energy chemical processes.

          I thus remain skeptical about hydrogen’s ability to out-compete fossil fuels. Wind/solar/batteries are already proving they can and are doing just that.

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        • Vic

           /  February 23, 2018

          There’s been some hydrogen action in the cleantech wonderland of South Australia too, where the State Gov has just announced funding for two new hydrogen production facilities.

          One uses a 1.25MW electrolyser and is designed to inject hydrogen into the local gas grid.

          http://reneweconomy.com.au/sa-backs-second-renewables-gas-hydrogen-plant-tonsley-53911/

          The other, a 15MW electrolyser along with 10 tonnes of hydrogen storage that equates to 200MWh of electricity storage. It will use a 5MW fuel cell plus a 10MW hydrogen fired gas turbine to generate electricity for the grid at opportune times.

          http://reneweconomy.com.au/s-a-to-host-australias-first-green-hydrogen-power-plant-89447/

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        • Vic

           /  February 23, 2018

          They’ll also be using some of that hydrogen to produce ammonia, which can then be shipped across the world to be converted back to hydrogen at its destination. The CSIRO is one of several organisations to have recently developed ‘ammonia crackers’ with just this type of trade in mind.

          A good blog here that keeps abreast of the gradually emerging ‘ammonia economy’.

          http://www.ammoniaenergy.org/

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        • Interesting. But no mention of cost for these systems or their ability to compete with existing fossil fuel infrastructure, much less wind + solar + batteries.

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        • There presently isn’t an ammonia economy. It’s all experimental or in the pilot phase at this time. Costs are high and scaling isn’t yet high enough to run a city, much less a country. By comparison, we have millions of electrical vehicles already on the road worldwide. How many ammonia vehicles?

          I don’t want to be too harsh. But it’s clear that hydrogen and ammonia as an energy storage medium aren’t really in the process of breaking out. Especially when you compare it to what’s presently happening with batteries.

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        • Mblanc

           /  February 24, 2018

          The cost of infrastructure seems prohibitive for the mass automotive market, so I would endorse the somewhat skeptical the views expressed by RS on Hydrogen generally. I don’t really know enough about Ammonia systems to comment on them, but I’m hoping that the momentum behind batteries in most applications is so great that other technologies won’t crowd them out.

          But for heavy applications I can see Hydrogen working better, and by any means possible is a persuasive mantra right now, especially in remote areas where the grid is limited. I used to hear that Hydrogen was the long-term solution quite often, but less so in recent times.

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        • bill h

           /  February 24, 2018

          Robert, re ammonia economy: I beg to differ here. There IS a world-wide ammonia economy already since ammonia is the basis for fertilisers, so there is a world-wide production and transport infrastructure in place. Moreover, the use of ammonia as a fuel goes back to at least 1869, so it pre-dates both gasoline and diesel. See http://www.aqpl43.dsl.pipex.com/MUSEUM/POWER/ammonia/ammonia.htm
          New Orleans streetcars were once powered on the stuff back in the 19th century

          The advantage of hydrogen and ammonia storage is in the amount of MWh that you can store per unit volume and/or mass of storage vessel, and the simplicity of storage: just a big tank, rather than a complex electrochemical cell. Ammonia’s a lot easier than hydrogen since it liquefies at room temperature at a mere 6 bar of pressure, so no need for high pressure storage containers of the sort that are needed for hydrogen.

          Chris Goodall has written some excellent posts on the subject at his Climate Commentary blog. See in particular:
          https://www.carboncommentary.com/blog/2017/7/5/hydrogen-made-by-the-electrolysis-of-water-is-now-cost-competitive-and-gives-us-another-building-block-for-the-low-carbon-economy

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        • Vic

           /  February 24, 2018

          On the costings…
          Tesla’s big Li-ion battery cost an estimated $50-70m and powers up to 100MW with 129MWh of storage.
          While the big hydrogen system costs $118m and can power up to 15MW with 200MWh of storage.

          So the batteries appear to win at these capacities, although GWh levels of storage would be a different story I think.

          Just to be clear, I also think running cars and trucks on hydrogen or ammonia can’t compete with BEV tech. But I still like the thought of carbon neutral ammonia as a globally traded clean energy source, although it might have to compete with intercontinental HVDC cables in such a market.

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        • Bill h

           /  February 24, 2018

          Vic, I agree on the advantages of batteries for short term storage, as notably demonstrated in South Australia. It’s in longer term storage that “Power to gas” comes into its own. I don’t thing there’s a danger of one crowding out the other.

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  6. bostonblorp

     /  February 23, 2018

    Despite the close dates and similar subject matter (ice melting vs SLR) I think this is a different study than the one RS wrote about a few stories ago.

    “New data analysis confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: West Antarctic ice melt is speeding up.”
    https://qz.com/1213702/a-new-nasa-image-confirms-that-antartica-is-losing-ice-faster-every-year/

    Link to the actual study:
    https://www.the-cryosphere.net/12/521/2018/tc-12-521-2018.pdf

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  7. Stevan

     /  February 23, 2018

    And I wonder what percentage of the TV weather forecasters mentioned Global Warming or Climate Change when describing these hot conditions on the East Coast.

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  8. Keith Wresch

     /  February 23, 2018

    I’d just like to point out that while it has been cold here in Southern California, though by no means record breaking, we are still not getting rain. One of the driest years I can remember.

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  9. Erik Frederiksen

     /  February 23, 2018

    Earth may have already taken the bit in its teeth.

    From a 3/2016 study:

    “In combination with previous findings, results suggest the permafrost region will become a carbon source to the atmosphere by 2100 regardless of warming scenario.” 1

    And from the NSIDC

    “But if the Earth continues to warm, and a lot of permafrost thaws out, the Arctic could become an overall source of carbon to the atmosphere, instead of a sink. This is what scientists refer to as a “tipping point.” We say that something has reached a tipping point when it switches from a relatively stable state to an unstoppable cycle.

    In this case, the Arctic would change from a carbon sink to a carbon source. If the Arctic permafrost releases more carbon than it absorbs, it would start a cycle where the extra carbon in the atmosphere leads to increased warming. The increased warming means more permafrost thawing and methane release.” 2

    Yet the study I linked to went on the say “that 65%–85% of permafrost carbon release can still be avoided if human emissions are actively reduced.” That would seem to disagree with the NSIDC, which indicated the process is unstoppable when the permafrost region becomes a net carbon emitter.

    This is an important question as there’s enough carbon locked up in the permafrost that if released as CO2 would add more than 800ppm to atmospheric CO2.

    1. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/034014/meta
    2. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/frozenground/methane.html

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